Loss Control Insights
Heat-Related Illnesses Are Preventable: Ways to Keep Workers Cool
EMC Senior Loss Control Representative Kelly Castillo works in one of the nation’s top four hottest states—Texas. Who better to provide you with some tips for reducing the likelihood of heat-related illnesses among outdoor workers this summer?
Every year thousands of workers become sick from heat exposure and some cases even lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, extreme heat events are the most common cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, resulting in more deaths per year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. According to loss control professionals like Castillo, these illnesses and deaths are preventable.
OSHA Offers Tips for Reducing Heat-Related Illnesses
One valuable tip Castillo learned in basic training with the Air Force was to start the day with two glasses of water. "Being hydrated takes care of a lot of problems workers will face in the heat," notes Castillo.
Reminding workers to frequently drink about one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes to help maintain good hydration is one of the heat stress prevention tips provided in a recently published Heat Stress Prevention Fact Sheet from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Some other tips from that fact sheet that Castillo shares with contractors in Texas include:
- Allow workers to get used to hot environments by gradually increasing exposure over a five-day work period.
- Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area.
- Monitor weather reports daily and reschedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of the day.
- Workers, especially those wearing semipermeable (penetrable) or impermeable (such as Tyvek or rubber) personal protective equipment, should be monitored for signs and symptoms of overexposure.
Castillo also encourages employers to make heat stress prevention education a part of new employee orientation. "That’s especially important in states like Texas, where temperatures can remain high for months on end."
Make sure employees know the various stages of heat duress (stress such as cramps or rash, exhaustion and stroke), what the symptoms are, and what to do if they succumb or notice symptoms in a coworker.
OSHA’s Valuable Heat Safety Tool
In addition to heat stress prevention tips, Castillo recommends employers download the new heat safety app developed by OSHA. The app allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite, and based on the heat index, display a risk level to outdoor workers. With a simple click, you can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illnesses.
Summer Heat Calls for a Change in Work Habits
"Preventing heat-related illnesses requires a change in habits for many outdoor workers," admits Castillo. At the top of the list is drinking soda or other caffeinated drinks, which actually cause workers to become dehydrated at a much faster rate than drinking water. "Rushing to get a job done is another work habit that can lead to heat-related illnesses," adds Castillo. "Workers need to recognize when they are in danger and take needed breaks to adjust for high temperatures and humidity. At the same time, supervisors need to respect and support a worker’s decision to seek relief from the heat."
OSHA’s campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers sums it up best– "Water. Rest. Shade. The work can’t get done without them." Incorporating proven heat stress prevention techniques, using OSHA’s heat safety app and a change in work habits, will go a long way to ensure the safety and health of outdoor workers. "If it works in Texas, it will work in any environment," concludes Castillo.